15 September 2019
I’ve learnt lots of interesting things this week, like there’s more pip than flesh in damsons.
And that pilots shouldn’t spill coffee on the control panel on the flight deck of an aeroplane because it can produce a sparky-type smell and smoke which this week forced a flight from Frankfurt in Germany to Cancun in Mexico to land in Ireland for a safety check and a long delay.
A car containing the remains of a man who disappeared in 1997 was found in a lake in Florida by someone using Google satellite images; I wonder if they draw drinking water from the lake? Chateau de Piedmort anybody?
In the 29th year of the Ignoble Awards, the chemistry prize this year was awarded to some Japanese scientists who calculated how much saliva a typical five-year-old produces in one day (half a litre). Next year, how much a typical 5-year old pees in one day.
Theresa May has given a knighthood to a convicted criminal, found guilty in France in 1998 of assaulting his then girlfriend by hitting her some 20 times, leaving her with two black eyes and a lot of bruises. After the award was criticised by Adina Claire of Women’s Aid, he demonstrated his continuing misogyny when Martha Kearney asked him about this criticism on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme by saying “I don’t give a toss about her, love”. He might once have been a famous cricketer but this excuses nothing. And calling Kearney (or any other woman) ‘love’ is hardly a sign of respect.
He was also of course famous for complaining that the awards given to the 2005 Ashes-winners devalued the OBE he had been given earlier, complaining that he hadn’t been given further honours and saying “I’d better black my face” because West Indians receive awards “like confetti”. What a thoroughly unpleasant man he sounds.
Figures released on Friday show that there were 32% more domestic killings of adults in the UK last year than there were in the previous year, and that about ¾ of the victims were women. Also, despite an increase in the number of alleged rapes reported to the police, a report from The Crown Prosecution Service reveals that the number of rape prosecutions fell by a third to its lowest level in a decade and there were just 1,925 convictions for rape in 2018-19, down from 2,635 in the previous year.
A friend’s grand-daughter was raped some years ago and, having heard how it affected her, I wonder if castration shouldn’t be mandatory for convicted male rapists (the sentence for those who plead guilty could reduced to just being castrated chemically).
Astronomers have discovered water in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting within what they describe as “the habitable zone” of a distant star where the temperature is “potentially compatible with the presence of life”. The planet concerned has been given the catchy name K2-18b, sounding like the bastard child of a Himalayan peak and a bus.
K2-18b is 111 light-years – about 650 million million (that’s 650,000,000,000,000) miles – from Earth and our telescopes are not yet powerful enough to detect gases in its atmosphere that could only be produced by living organisms. Just imagine: the next generation of telescopes might be able to detect alien farts.
As a thick, non-scientist, I have a problem with this. Why are we so homocentric, associating life with water and carbon and temperatures that suit humanity? How could we know if there’s a silicon-based lifeform basking naked at temperatures close to absolute zero somewhere? Or if all living things on earth are just inventions of the earth itself because the earth just needs its back scratched sometimes.
Another problem I have, which I’ve mentioned before, is with the distance involved. Einstein said nothing can travel faster than light* so let’s assume we beam this planet a message and there is intelligent carbon-based life there and it has suitably tuned receivers and it understands the message. It’ll receive our message in the year 2130 (well, our western year 2130, it may still be Tuesday out there); and let’s assume they understand it and immediately send a reply which will get back here in our year 2241. Isn’t there then likely to be a frantic search for some record of what was in the original message we’d sent 222 years earlier?
It’d be like us trying to find out what we’d said in 1797 (the year of the first copper pennies, which were made of 1 oz of copper and were therefore large and heavy and became known as cartwheel pennies; they played merry hell with the pockets of one’s breeches and male joggers had to run very carefully).
And, of course, the ante-penultimate prime minister has published a book implying that there was at least one active drug dealer in Eton when he was there. Anybody know what became of him?
* Actually, as Terry Pratchett pointed out “No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it”.